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3-HOUR TOUR

A World for Little Ones and Little Wonders From Japan

October 13, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to The Times Orange County Edition.

There are probably a thousand McDonald's in Japan by now, so it's only fair that at McDonald's Plaza in Fountain Valley you can find foo dogs and "fortune cats," kimonos and ramen. Among a number of specialty shops, one carries everything for bebe.

11 to 11:30: Bebe's World sells baby furniture, accessories, toys and clothing.

There's a Wipe Warmer (come on, how would you like it cold?), Audio Therapy Sleep Tapes, "the tapes with a heartbeat," and a breast pump offering "everything you need to express yourself." Getting around is a major concern among little ones: Soft-padded babyheadrests have built-in speakers that adapt to most cassette players; Cart-a-Kid is a safety cradle for shopping carts.

Eating and going to the bathroom are also big. Snack and Play is a "neat little eat seat"; Perfect Potty is a five-way seat that serves three stages of toilet-training and then some. Oops! No Spill Feeding Bowl claims "the bowl within a bowl design catches spills before they happen!" There's always Absorb-a-Mess in case it doesn't.

The Real Executive Lap Top Teether is a tiny computer with a soft keyboard and space bar that "soothes teething gums while promoting hand-eye coordination." For that special yuppie baby, there's a Perrier baby bottle. There's also a roomful of rocking chairs, not only for nursing but possibly because you'll need one by the time baby turns 3.

11:30 to noon: It is said that the fortune cat, with its left paw raised, brings 1,000 customers and, with its right paw raised, brings the fortune of money; at least that's what the little tags say. Either would be just dandy, of course, and you can find both right- and left-pawed cats in all sizes at Miyoshi Gift Shop. You might need a fortune cat to afford the more elaborate foo dogs ($600), fierce-looking figurines with lion manes.

Tissue boxes are far less mundane when decorated with such motifs as waves, fans and cranes. You can find all manner of chopsticks, Holographic Jump Ropes that "come alive in the sunlight" for $1.75 and, at the rear of the store, dolls starting at $7.95.

But high on the shelves are exquisite Kabuki and Noh dancer dolls, from $50 to $995, some with musical instruments. Each tells a story. "Those are brides; these are Kabuki dancers; this is an ordinary housewife," explained store owner Miyoshi Nakamura. "You can tell by the hairstyle. Misses or miss, you can also tell by hairstyle."

Noon to 12:30: Every aisle can be an adventure at Ebisu Oriental Market.

The store carries a cornucopia of rice crackers, roasted seaweed, fermented soybean paste, deep-fried fish balls and melon preserved in sake lees. There are five-pound bags of sake lees if you want to preserve your own melons. Cookbooks include "Wok Around Asia" and "A Taste of Tofu." Japanese plum honey wine has plums in the bottle; there's even Japanese Scotch.

In the freezer department are seasoned conger eels; soft shell crabs come three to a pack. These products are pure: The ingredients for "dried young of sardine" lists only "young of sardine"; salted fish guts, of course, also lists salt. For dessert, you can try ice cream and ice cream bars in green tea or sweet red bean flavors.

Fresh offerings include octopus by the pound ($10.95) and little live snails with very attractive shells in a bucket. Artistically prepared boxes of sushi are available for takeout, or you can buy a block of tuna and make your own sashimi. Also ready for takeout is musubi, or "spam sushi." Ingredients: rice and Spam.

12:30 to 1:40: Ebisu Ramen Restaurant will dispel any notions you may harbor about wet noodles. There is nothing limp about these flavors or, indeed, the helpings.

It took stamina to finish sutamina noodles with fried vegetables, pork and garlic and served with raw egg; most popular is champon, ramen with fried vegetables, seafood and pork (each is $5.75). My normally finicky 7-year-old dived into okosama ramen for children ($3.95), noodles in a soy-sauce flavored soup followed by vanilla ice cream.

Okonomiyaki are Japanese pancakes sort of like mayonnaise pizza, only lots better. The Ebisu Special ($7.50) comes with the works: squid, pork, beef, shrimp, oyster and--moving!--bonito shavings.

Fast food? Perish the thought. We sat at the counter, where we watched a chef painstakingly make takoyaki, octopus dumplings with seaweed, bonito and ginger ($3.95), and taiyaki, fish-shaped cookies filled with sweet red beans (75 cents, three-order minimum). "He really cares about making stuff for us," noted my son.

1:40 to 2: There are more than a few treasures at modest Maruhachi. Hanging on racks are kimonos, robes and vests, but take a few minutes to admire the obi, sashes used with the kimonos; the more beautiful examples in the store cost up to $1,000. In what must surely be a unique merchandising ploy, the store also carries thermal reflective collapsible sports bottles.

3-HOUR TOUR

1. Bebe's World

18960 Brookhurst St.

(714) 964-2484

Open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

2. Miyoshi Gift Shop

18942 Brookhurst St.

(714) 968-9100

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

3. Ebisu Oriental Market

18930-40 Brookhurst St.

(714) 962-2108 or (714) 962-2072

Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

4. Ebisu Ramen Restaurant

18924 Brookhurst St.

(714) 964-5993

Open Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

5. Maruhachi

18916 Brookhurst St.

(714) 964-5993

Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

PARKING / BUSES

Parking: There is ample parking in a lot shared by all locations.

Buses: OCTA Bus 35 runs north and south along Brookhurst Street with a stop at Garfield Avenue.

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